Pew Research Center released a new report on who's having babies and who isn't.
"Nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s," they say. "While childlessness has risen for all racial and ethnic groups, and most education levels, it has fallen over the past decade for women with advanced degrees." Childlessness is defined solely by womb activity, as opposed to the day-to-day parenting.
There aren't too many surprises here. I was intrigued, though, by a few factoids. Perhaps we're trending away from the cliché of childless/childfree folks being white and highly educated. (Pew didn't measure the number of cocktail parties, height of stiletto heels, or number of cats per childless woman, however.) And there's solid evidence that the mom demographic isn't entirely composed of married ladies with no life outside their domestic duties. A majority of those advanced degree-holders were biological mothers.
Non-white categories saw sharper *relative* increases in childlessness than whites did. In the last fourteen years, the childlessness rates for black and Hispanic women grew by more than 30%, whereas the rate for white women increased just 11%. Still, white chicks are a bit more likely to be childless. In 2008, 20% of white women, 17% of black and Hispanic women, and 16% of Asian women were childless.
Americans being obsessed by race, there are loads of detailed stats about this on the survey. Take a look; it's interesting stuff.
Proving once again that I'm a dutiful member of the herd, it appears that women with advanced college degrees (masters, PhD, etc) are more likely to have biokids now than they were ten or twenty years ago.† What's that all about, I wonder? The report offers explanations for the general decrease in bio-childbearing among the population at large, but doesn't attempt to explain why we overeducated ladies started poppin' out babies again.
In all other groups, like "no high school diploma" and "bachelor's degree," women are either staying childless in the same numbers as they were in the early nineties or those numbers are increasing. "Since the 1990s, rates of childlessness have risen most sharply for the least educated women. The most dramatic change has occurred among women with less than a high school diploma, whose likelihood of bearing no children rose 66% from 1994 to 2008."
Surveys divide people up into "never-marrieds" and "ever-marrieds," not giving us detailed data about how long someone was married, whether the law doesn't allow them to marry their partner, or whether they divorced at age 18 after being married by an Elvis impersonator and living with their coke dealer husband for 45 days. In other words, the married/unmarried stats are as binary, old-fashioned, and unreliable as the childless/gave-birth stats.
Way, way more never-married women are childless than women-who-have-ever-been-married, but these days, far more never-marrieds are likely to give birth than they were a couple decades back. Let me take you back to 1994, when the World Wide Web was a wacky new phenomenon and hardly anyone in this country had cell phones or tattoos. Back then, 71% of unmarried women were childless. Whereas in 2008—when getting rid of your cell phone was harder to do than removing a tattoo, and you did your banking and half your social life online—only 56% of unmarried women remained childless. That's a dramatic drop.
NONBIOLOGICAL PARENTING, CO-PARENTING
The Pew report actually bothers to mention women who parent or co-parent without going through the full biological hoopla, though data comes from elsewhere and is mentioned only briefly. "Some women who do not bear their own children raise children as adoptive mothers or stepmothers. According to the 2008 American Community Survey, there are 61.6 million biological children in U.S. households, as well as 1.6 million adopted children and 2.5 million stepchildren."
Unfortunately, this data doesn't map directly to the Pew report's data. Knowing that there are 1.6 million adopted children in the United States doesn't tell us how many of their moms are considered "childless" by the Pew report!
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE NEXT SURVEY OR CENSUS,
since of course they are all reading random blogs to decide what information they should gather. Har har har. Anyway:
1) Stop defining "women who have never borne children from their uteri" as "childless." A full-time adoptive mother is in no way "childless." Ignoring her in the survey makes the data seem really inconclusive to me, in terms of tracking social trends. If you *do* take adoption and stepmothering into consideration, *then* what is the childlessness rate? That would be a much more useful statistic than "whose womb did what over the last ten years."
2) Track information for the grey areas of childlessness. How many PhD-toting women consider themselves "co-parents" but not "mothers"? I am a half-time stepmom, yet have characterized myself as "biologically childless." Where do I fit in? And a woman who happens to have given birth but isn't an active parent (gives the child up for adoption, doesn't have custody and rarely sees the child, etc.)—how should she be counted?
Basically, the binary definition of "childless" vs "parent" is inadequate and far too limiting. Childless, childfree, mother, biological parent, adoptive mother, birther or breeder who doesn't actually parent any children: give 'em all their own line on the census form!
3) Get over this quaint idea that women ages 40-44 provide a good measurement for studying childlessness and childbearing. Suppose Pew had interviewed me last year. Survey says? "Forty years old and childless." By the time those stats were compiled and published, they'd be inaccurate; today I'd say "Forty-one and pregnant." If all goes well, next year I'd say "Forty-two and a biological parent." I just skewed their results.
"This report uses the standard measure of childlessness at the end of childbearing years, which is the share of women ages 40-44 who have not borne any children," the report notes. One wonders who establishes these standards, given that more and more people are waiting later and later to have children, thanks to career options and to increasing availability of reproductive medicine and infertility treatment. To me, it would seem more sensible to survey women at age 50.
Maybe someone who understands statistics could riddle me this:
"Women who have borne children are more likely to be high school graduates (30%) than childless women (26%). Women with at least one child also are more likely than childless women not to have completed high school (11% vs. 8%)." So if you have a biokid, you are both more and less likely to be a high school graduate. ??
† "...rates have declined among women with advanced degrees -- by 17% for those with master's degrees and 32% for those with doctorates or professional degrees. Women with advanced degrees were more likely in 1994 to be childless than were women with bachelor's degrees -- 34% of women with doctorates or professional degrees were childless, as were 30% of those with master's degrees and 23% of those with bachelor's degrees."
Bibliography/bibliographical info: http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/758/rising-share-women-have-no-children-childlessness. Livingston, Gretchen and Cohn, D'Vera, "Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees." Pew Research Center, June 25, 2010.